Gratitude and Micro.blog

    Gratitude is an important practice. While I might like to think of myself as independent and able to manage my life on my own, truth is little, indeed nothing in life can ultimately be done alone. From the time that I get out of bed in the morning, until I go to sleep, I live my life in dependence upon others - both seen and unseen. These can be other humans, those keeping my water running or lights on, to non-humans, the sun in the sky or the worms tilling the soil. Gratitude practice makes us look deeper, and in doing so can transform our experience of the world from a place of lack to a place of abundance.

    At the beginning of this week my website had a bad case of the hiccups. For the most part it was live, but at the same time there were either parts of the website not functioning properly, or additions that I tried to make to the site that decided not to play ball with the rest of it.

    These online bumps in the road were caused by my limited knowledge of website design (but diving in anyway), coupled with Micro.blog, the platform that hosts my blog, going through a growth spurt.

    I have been with Micro.blog for just over three years. In that time there has been much development of the platform, and this New Year seems to have produced an explosion of new themes and plugins, created by both the platform’s founder, Manton Reece, and the wider Micro.blog community. This has produced opportunities for design enhancement, but also circumstances for breaks in the road as the new additions catch up with each other.

    Due to my limited knowledge of website design, I could not have navigated the changes that I tried to bring to my own site, alone. My gratitude goes out to those who I spoke about above. Without the help of Manton and the community, I could not have navigated the hiccups on my site and have got the bumps in the road smoothed out.

    It has been said elsewhere by others in this community, but I find that Micro.blog has one of the friendliest and supportive online communities on the web and I am grateful to be a part of it.

    Managing my Life

    On January 1st, with a new month here, never mind a new year, I worked through my December todos, seeing what was undone and bringing those items forward to January.

    This is not my Bullet Journal, rather it is a hybrid system that I have been cobbling together from a number of different systems. It has taken me a while to get here, but I am feeling more comfortable than I have done for a long while in managing my life and for that I am grateful.

    The process of getting here has been a reminder to me of sticking with it. If the intention is there, I believe that a way forward will be found. The key for me has been perseverance.

    Now also feels like a good time to review where I have got to.

    A sketch of my system

    I have borrowed from the following places and systems,

    • Bullet Journalling
    • Patrick Rhone’s Dash/Plus system
    • James Clear’s work on building habits
    • The community at Micro.blog

    Probably the biggest move, and this started over a year ago, has been the move away from digital task management to good ol’ pen and paper, in the form of notebooks. I think as digital devices became more portable, I thought to manage my life with their help. But I had to be honest with myself, it wasn’t working. It was also pushing me into a corner of feeling as though I had to get things done, either because of how the apps were constructed or how I understood to use them.

    With benefit of hindsight, this move to notebooks made total sense. I have been keeping journals, both written and digital, for a number of decades. The written journals have always been my most enjoyable in keeping - making the time to write and then having that visceral experience of putting my thoughts to paper through a pen, a favourite of course, traveling across the pages of the notebook.

    Let me take a look at how the systems listed above have come together to create what I now use.

    Micro.blog

    Returning to the list above, I’ll start at the end. I have found the Micro.blog community very helpful as members share where they are at in managing tasks in their own lives. While I can’t point to one specific person or piece of advice, I have appreciated the thinking out loud which has nudged my own thinking along and given me new ideas where I was getting stuck. So “Thank you, all.”

    Bullet Journal

    The Bullet Journal method by Ryder Carroll was my first attempt at transitioning from digital to paper. At first I stayed away because the learning curve looked too steep to me. I forced myself back to have another look and ended up using Carroll’s system for many months. I enjoyed the ritual of sitting down and writing, being away from the screen, both big and small. With time though the Bullet Journal felt too involved for me, bringing an added layer of complexity to my todo management that I did not want. Whether that was how I was using the system, sticking to rigidly to how I thought it should be used, or it simply not being for me, I don’t know, but I moved away from Bullet Journaling.

    Dash/Plus

    The Dash/Plus System is a metadata markup system created by Patrick Rhone, whom I met on Micro.blog. Like the Bullet Journal, I started using it and then stopped. It is not as involved as Bullet Journaling, something that appealed to me, but it still did not work for me. With the benefit of hindsight, I think that I was probably trying to stick too rigidly to the system as Rhone presented it as opposed to making it my own (ironically, something that he encourages). I put it down and did not return until I picked up James Clear’s Clear Habit Journal.

    James Clear on building habits

    I started reading James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, and using his methods of using small habits to build larger habits. I was making progress there and so decided to buy his Clear Habit Journal to help track my progress. I never finished Atomic Habits, but in the Journal I adopted some of Clear’s ideas alongside creating a Dash/Plus / Bullet Journal hybrid method unintentionally (see below). This I feel is still under construction, but has been working for me since August 2020.

    David’s Tracking Method (for want of a better name!)

    Clear’s Clear habit Journal can be used in anyway that one likes, but has some features that made me think in a particular way.

    • The bulk of the book is dotted pages which put me into a Bullet Journal / Dash/Plus mindset. Clear offers some suggestions for how to use the dotted pages, but they did not work for me.
    • The front of the Journal contains an Index. With that and the dotted pages, I dropped into a daily list of todos, short journal entries and reflections, and occasionally some data points around what I needed to remember. I use some of the markup from Dash/Plus and created a couple of my own. Days just run on below each other, separated by a short, drawn line.
    • At the end of each month, I start a new page bringing forward undone items from the previous month.
    • The initial pages in the Journal offer space for a single line journal reflection each day. I currently use it to reflect on what I am grateful for.
    • The back pages offer a way to track habits per day, each month. I use that to keep up with some habits that I wish to build.
    • I also use the back dotted pages to keep notes on meetings I attend, projects I am working on, or fact sheets I need at hand.
    • All of these have quick access from the Index at the front of the Journal.

    In conclusion

    This still feels like a work in progress, but truth be told I have pretty much dropped into a rhythm which I think will stick with. I use my iPhone and laptop’s Calendar and Reminders apps for some appointment checking - sometimes these will start in my journal and then be moved to the appropriate app - otherwise it is in my journal.

    As I start to see the end of the current Clear Habit Journal in site - I’m not using a notebook year on year, just as I use it up - the next decision is what notebook will be next? Clear’s Journal has a lot already in place, lessening the need for setup, but there is also a lot that is superfluous to my needs. So I am looking elsewhere, and again the pen and paper crowd on Micro.blog have been helpful as they share their tools. I’m am looking forward to that hunt!

    Book in the Car

    In my attempt to read more, I have put a book in the glove compartment of my car. I am not the fastest of readers, and find that I do not have a lot of time to read - perhaps a few pages before turning off the light at night. Other opportunities are grabbed here and there…and that was the motivation for the book in the glove compartment idea.

    No, I do not intend to read and drive. However, perhaps after going into a store, I’ll stop for a moment and read a few pages? Or maybe I will tie in a lunch break instead of rushing home, pulling over in a park or beside the road to munch on a sandwich and read a few pages?

    I just figured that maybe with a book nearby, when I am out and about, it might engender in me a new habit and find me taking time to read. I believe that the time is there, even if I convince myself otherwise at times, I just have to find those opportunities. I say to people who struggle finding time to meditate, that the time is there, you just have to be creative and look for time. Now I a throwing that back at myself and looking at reading. Yes, the time might not be what I ideally want, but it will be something.

    Now I just have to remember that the book is in the car!

    Pen & Paper helping to find a way forward

    There are times when I find myself loosing focus on what I am doing and I start looking for distractions. Not unlikely it is because I am coming up against something that I don’t enjoy doing or find difficult. When I hit those situations, I am trying to train myself to get to paper & pen to gather my thoughts and find a way forward.

    Journaling while in Self-Isolation

    I have long kept a journal. For me it started as a record of my travels during the late 1980’s. Since returning from those journeys my journal has become a place to share what has been on my mind, to explore my thoughts and work through them. It has been a place to just write with no goal.

    The passage of time

    Journaling as a daily activity has embed and flowed. From days of intense involved writing, to weeks of occasional notes, just wanting to get a thought out of my head while not having enough time to take it further.

    I have gone through periods of having my journal sit beside me during my morning meditation. If something is really nagging at me, I pick up my pen and journal and write it out of my head.

    Other times I have put time aside to write, just allowing the pen to go where it wants to go with no agenda as to what I say. I might start with the weather and end up with something that happened last week.

    Yet again I might have my journal as something that I carry around with me and jot words into as I go through my day - words of inspiration, something that I am doing, or just something that I am trying to work out in my head.

    Medium

    The journaling medium has also varied over the years. For the most part it has been a pen and notebook. I love the process of allowing a pen to track across the page. My choice of notebook and pen have varied. I find it important to write with that which I am comfortable.

    As the digital age developed I started having a part time computer based journal that lived on an app on my computer and iPhone. With this I had a place to catch things on the go. In time, with the realization that if the app goes so do my journal entries, I have started to transfer those entries to a digital text based format, something that can be opened in pretty much any writing application regardless of platform - computer or phone. And with that my main journaling medium now appears to be text files sitting in the Cloud.

    Self-Isolation

    With a digital journal that can be accessed on my computer and iPhone, I have found it a helpful as a place to go to during this period of self-isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Self-isolation puts me and my family in a situation that we have never found ourselves in before. The isolation part does not bother me. I am use to not venturing far. But being an introvert in a very extroverted family with our needs and wants sometimes clashing, having a place to go to put down my experiences and feelings has been a great help. The process allows me to go inside, to process, to explore, and normally by the time that I reach a finishing point I find I have created some space in my life. In some way I have relieved pressure that has been building up in me. I am ready to take on other things. The exercise of writing has allowed that to happen.

    How?

    Each day I simply open a new file, put the date at the top, enter the time of my first entry and write. Later in the day I will open the same file, enter the current time and add more content to that file. By the end of the day it becomes a log of my experiences and thoughts through the day.

    I am grateful for it.

    Time passes

    I started this post on April 1st according to the timestamp on the file that is holding this post. I am unsure why there has been the delay in getting this out? I think in part it has been managing my way through these times of self-isolation with my family. Today I wrote on my micro.blog blog,

    One of those days which never really feels as though it gets going, such that by the end of it there is a sense of frustration and a “cross my fingers” that I am not there tomorrow.

    Life over the last almost four weeks, that is how long my family & I have be practicing self-isolation, has been an up and down ride. Some days have gone well, others have felt like trudging through mud - unproductive, lethargic, family members struggling.

    Through it all I have been journaling. Some days more than others - the frustration that I speak of in the blog post above can play a part in that. However the day plays out, the writing helps to keep me going.

    You?

    What are you using to help you manage your way through these times?


    If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

    Passing it on - Advice for this time of Self-Isolation

    Laurie Helgoe is a psychologist and an author whose work I admire. Her book Introvert Power has long been a favourite of mine on the growing genre of books on the subject of Introversion. She recently posted a piece of advice on Twitter which I thought was very helpful for these times. Retweeting it is one way of passing it on. Sharing it here is another.

    Looking back

    Are you struggling with the self-isolation which appears to have been imposed on most of the world? Is it overwhelming you?

    Stop for a moment. Imagine yourself in the future looking back to your time of self-isolation. What do you wish you had done or experienced?

    Do that or experience it, NOW.

    I feel that this is a good piece of advice for any time in my life, perhaps when I am feeling down, or stuck, or as though my hands are tied in some way.

    What opportunity is available to me now? What would I like to experience now?

    And it might be as small a thing as stepping outside, or opening the window to breathe some fresh air.

    Source

    The original tweet is here.


    If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

    Finding Balance in my Life

    There is a saying, that ‘a change is as good as a rest.' A few days ago I decided to make that change and it made me realize how little I make space for such in my life, and with that how much I do benefit from when I do honour the opportunity for doing something different.

    Over the weekend I headed out to YMCA Camp Keanae with two friends who are a part of the Maui community of The ManKind Project (MKP) here in Hawaii. MKP uses the Camp as a venue to hold weekend workshops, and in order to help keep our costs down for participants, the Camp offers MKP work exchange days.

    The drive out to Keanae, the village above which the Camp sits, is along the scenic Hana Highway, so called because of the destination town on the eastern most point of the road. I can see the highway from my home and each day it busy with visitors heading out on the two hour, narrow and twisting drive out to Hana. The drive is a justifiable attraction. Although the road is hairy in places as it turns sharp corners while hugging the cliffs high above the Pacific ocean, the views of the sea and the remote coast line are stunning. I have driven that road a few times and am still struck by its beauty.

    But this journey is not a regular occurrence, and visits to Camp Keanae are fewer.

    The Day’s Plan

    The plan for the day was quite simple. We drive out in the morning, find out what work needs doing, help out for the day, and head home early evening. All the while chatting and working aside good friends.

    The day was beautiful, an atypical winter day from what we had been having. Clear skies, warm sun, and wind to whip the ocean into a froth of breaking waves.

    The Camp sits above the village of Keanae, and the views from the kitchen/dining area look down onto the tarot fields, church and few buildings that make up the small hamlet. A disappearing part of old Hawaii.

    The Job

    I was assigned the job of tearing up and replacing some decking, under the guidance of an experienced carpenter. I was in short the grunt man. We worked through the morning tearing up the rotten wood and laying the start of a new deck. At lunchtime I took myself off for a walk around the grounds and to sit and gaze out at the cliffs stretching into the distance.

    It still amazes me that in living here on Maui, I am sitting on a massive volcano - Haleakala.

    After lunch we moved on through a hot afternoon. Where we were working was a sun trap and we were protected from the cooling but refreshing wind. By the end of the day the base of the new deck was in place for those who came the next day. Indeed tomorrow’s crew showed up while we were getting ready to leave and started on the next stage.

    Heading Home

    As can often happen, I find, the drive home felt quicker than the ride out to Keanae that morning. We chatted happily, reflecting on our experiences within MKP.

    I was the first to be dropped off. My wife was still out and so I had an hour to settle back into home, clear up and put work clothes away.

    The day was transitioning to dusk. The light changing, that sense of winding down for the day. As I cleaned up, I looked back on the day. There was a sense of time having passed, of jobs done, conversations had, of having been somewhere else. Home felt different, different through being away from it for a period of time and enjoying myself in that time away. In being away, home felt refreshed, different yet familiar. And I felt refreshed, pleased to have been away. Pleased to have decided to take that time to spend time in good company, somewhere different to my usual daily haunts.

    A change had indeed been as good as a rest.

    And finally

    Just before reading this piece through and preparing to post it to my blog, I headed out for Saturday morning breakfast with my wife and her daughter - again something I seem to do with less regularity than I have done in the past. My day now feels fresher, cleaner, newer. I will be starting on home tasks with a sense of renewed vigor. More benefits from a change.


    If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

    Distracting myself - taking small bites

    Those days when I can’t seem to find focus. My mind is looking for ways out. I can feel the resistance to what needs to be done. Time is wasted doing that which does not need to be done, following links on websites, reading that which is interesting but not necessary right now.

    I write this as much to remind myself of what I need to do when resistance creeps into my life.

    Body

    As the resistance to getting things done kicks in, the body tenses. For me that sits especially in the shoulders but I can also feel in my mind. Like a caged animal, my mind wants to run from where it is being held, from the tasks at hand. Unless I can grab hold of the mind, it is around this time that I start getting distracted. It is my mind’s equivalent of escaping from the cage…though in reality it is still trapped.

    Anchor

    What I need in that moment is an anchor. Something firm to hold onto that prevents me running off into unproductive activities. By anchor I am not necessarily talking about a physical thing, though it could be. Examples of anchors might be:

    • Drop everything, get out and take a walk. Just remove yourself from the focus of your activities and change the scenery.
    • If outside is not an option, change the scenery through a walk to the bathroom (whether you need to go or not), a walk to the coffee machine, or to a window with an expansive view.
    • Meditate - feel your feet on the ground, the contact of your body with the chair. Become aware of the sounds around you. Bring your attention to your breath, just breathing itself naturally. Watching the rise and fall of the belly can further help to ground you.
    • If you have some spiritual practice, in that moment drop into that. For example the recitation of a mantra, itself a meditation.
    • Journal - just write, let the mind run free. Perhaps write about what needs to be done. If you are keeping a Bullet Journal, get more detailed in there. Break up the tasks.

    Take small bites

    And then when you return to work don’t try and get everything done at once. If you didn’t do this during your break, look at the tasks that you have set yourself and break them down into smaller bite size chunks. And then slowly work through those chucks.

    Take a break

    Periodically take a break, perhaps every 20, 30 or 40 minutes stop, walk around, breathe deeply, stretch for 5 minutes, and then back to work. After a longer period of time, take a loner break. The Pomodoro Technique can be helpful with this, and there are many computer and phone apps that implement variations of the technique.

    Go steadily but gently

    Finally, go gently on yourself. Do not set expectations that you cannot keep. Incrementally stretch yourself, trying a little more each time, each time building on the progress made the day before. With practice the distractions become less, the mind tamed, quieter, and progress is made in work.

    Further reading

    Steven Pressfield wrote a whole book on the subject of resistance called The War of Art. Take a look a it if you would like to look at the creative blocks in your life.

    Bullet Journal - A Place for Mind to Relax

    Meditation is giving a huge, luscious meadow to a restless cow. The cow might be restless for a while in its huge meadow but at some stage, because there is so much space, the restlessness becomes irrelevant. So the cow eats and eats and eats and relaxes and falls asleep.
    ~ Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom, pp. 48-9

    Giving space to our thoughts

    At times my mind can feel very small and constricted. I probably wouldn’t acknowledge that at the time, as when I’m in such a space it is too caught up in grumbling about something, being frustrated, impatient, judging (myself or others), to actually notice what it is doing to itself. But when I finally muster some self-awareness, that is what I recognize going on - a small, constricted mind caught up in a thick dust storm of not thinking clearly.

    Meditation clears my mind, letting the dust settle and allowing me to see more clearly. As opposed to engaging with dust cloud of grumbles and judgements, I just allow them to be. I give them the space to act out as they choose to, watching their antics. With time and me not engaging with them, they run out of steam and the mind settles.

    My Todo Lists

    My todo lists have also at times felt like a dust cloud, not allowing me to see what is really going on and needs to be done. For many years I have been caught up in an apparently never ending search of where shall I put them such that I actually act on what I put into them?

    Will this app work, maybe that app? Yes, my search for an answer was always in the electronic realm. However, nothing ever really worked for me within that domain. No method appeared to stick. I used an app for a while, find myself getting behind in due dates that I have set - for reasons within and out of my control - and then start feeling the pressure mounting in me to get things done. All I could see in front of me was due dates and nothing else. The dust cloud starts to get stirred up again. I became paralyzed into inaction. What was meant to help has now become a burden.

    Journaling

    While this carousel of a search went on I continued to keep a journal. I have kept a journal for almost 30 years now. Not everyday. Sometimes everyday. Just regularly in an irregular way. Often enough that I regard it as a part of my life, and an important part at that.

    My journal writing came out of my traveling in my mid-twenties. I just started keeping a diary of my travels, where I had been, what I had seen and then slowly I found myself delving introspectively into my thoughts and feelings as I experienced life on the road.

    In the decades since those travels I continue to write, filling notebooks with thoughts, struggles, celebrations, really whatever comes to mind in the moment that I pick up a pen.

    I keep an electronic journal as well. I use it if I am on the move and just want to get something out of my head and pen and paper are not available. For the most part though my journal is a notebook and pen.

    So the search for a todo list manager continued. Through it all I felt a continued resistance to managing my todos away from the electronic world. I work a lot on my computer, my devices are all synced together, and so managing lists electronically felt clean and minimalistic. Nothing else to carry around. I just had to find that elusive app that would bring my problems to an end and make my life productive.

    Back to paper

    My wife has managed her todo lists in the most simplest of ways for as long as I can remember - a pad of paper sits in the kitchen and she writes on it as things come up, and then refers to it through her day. The seed of my way out of todo list struggles was right in front of me, but I couldn’t see it.

    I think that in the end exhaustion just set in. I had to find a way forward, and then two methods presented themselves to me.

    At some point I came across two pen and paper ways of managing your life.

    My first take was that the Bullet Journal was just too complicated, would take an age to learn and ironically because of that would just be another addition to my todo list. It was relegated to the runner’s up position and I started experimenting with Dash/Plus. However, no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t make it work for me. Something was missing. So I bit the bullet, excuse the pun, and dived into exploring the Bullet Journal.

    The Bullet Journal

    Fears of over complication couldn’t have been further from the truth. Yes there was a learning curve, but within a short time I was getting into the rhythm of writing down things to do, checking them off as they got done, moving items from here to there à la the Bullet Journal methodology. Journal feels a very apt name for this system. My Bullet Journal felt like a very natural adjunct to my regular journal. My Bullet Journal was keeping track of a part of my life. It was not only helping me move through and manage what I had to do, it also held space for me to go back and see what I had been doing with my life. At times I was even exploring some insights where some activities or decisions had proven challenging.

    Creating and holding space

    Perhaps most importantly for me is the space that I feel the Bullet Journal holds for me when I enter my todos. Some are urgent, some have dates when they need to be completed, others are just sitting there waiting to be done. It offers a space to download from my head stuff that needs to be done. With my head cleared of the noise of what has to be done, my Bullet Journal then gives me the space to look at…let’s say, my life. If it is not done today, it gets moved on. Perhaps in time it is erased from my todos. I can check back over a day or week to see if there is something that has slipped my mind…or observation.

    The space that Bullet Journal creates for my todos allows my mind to relax, not constricting (which it was before) around deadlines and wanting to get items of the list.

    The field of my Bullet Journal

    Returning to the quote at the top of this piece, my Bullet Journal has become the field into which I can let loose the restless cow which are my todos. The Bullet Journal system gives them a space to rest, and to be moved elsewhere if necessary. But not moved in anxiety. The system allows it and works with the move.

    As my todos rest, so do I.

    Letting Go - A Lesson From the Road

    I am not long back from a summer holiday visiting family and friends in different parts of the US and UK. Six weeks on the road. I have be away for much longer, much longer, but looking out from the perspective of pre-departure this felt like an exhausting trip before I had even taken off. Despite looking forward to seeing family and being back in England, this jaunt felt as though it would be busy - read, not much down time. This is not a good way to approach a trip abroad, expecting the worst…and in there lay the lesson, letting go.

    For all the raised awareness around introversion that has emerged over the last few years following the publication of Susan Cain’s book “Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” and the online dialogue that now takes place everyday, introverts (and extroverts) must be careful that they do not fall into the trap of always expecting things to be the way that they want them. I am not suggesting here that we do not speak up and advocate for change and increased understanding where appropriate. I am also not suggesting that we go looking for trouble. But sometimes we do not get dealt the cards that we want and have to deal with the situation appropriately, i.e. not complaining, but as skillfully, patiently and as compassionately (towards and between all parties) as possible!

    A question of balance

    This can present a difficult dilemma of balance. In whatever aspect of our lives it is, we all have those moments when we reach our limit. The pot is full and we are struggling to maintain our composure and to function clearly. For me that can come when I have had just too much people input. I can’t detect the pattern here - time around some groups of people are fine, around others and the plug is eventually pulled out and my energy starts to drain away. I think that a lot of it has to do with what is going on and who I am with. So that dilemma of balance comes from on the one hand acknowledging a need to take a break, and on the other completely withdrawing from the world such that we become a stranger to those around us.

    Having supportive friends and letting those around you know what your needs are is a big help. Do not be afraid of speaking to your needs. I recognize that at times that can feel easier said than done. Perhaps societal pressures make you afraid of what the consequences will be of speaking up - how will you be judged? Will you be put down (from which the way out can then seem further)? Or maybe other’s tolerance or understanding only goes so far?

    So times can arise when you need to draw on other reserves until the downtime that you are craving becomes possible.

    Seeking perfection

    The Tibetan meditation masters warn us of procrastinating over our meditation and never getting round to sitting because we are constantly on the look out for “perfect” conditions in which to sit - completely quiet, the right time of day, temperature, smell, etc… Even the yogis who disappear off for years or decades of meditation in remote caves have to undergo all sorts of hardship - cold, lack of food, physical discomfort - but they stick with it because the end goal brings greater rewards.

    While I was going to be afforded sometime to myself while I was away, there was definitely going to be a lot of time catching up with people, running around…fitting a lot into a short time. I would look to take quiet time to recharge where I could, but where not it was better to accept the situation and instead of expending energy resisting what I didn’t want, use other methods to recharge.

    A verse from a 9th Century Buddhist text by the Indian scholar Shantideva speaks to this way of approaching the world,

    Where would I possibly find enough leather
    With which to cover the surface of the earth?
    But (wearing) leather just on the soles of my shoes
    Is equivalent to covering the earth with it.”

    In ancient India and today the roads are hot, dusty and dirty and the holy men who have renounced the householders life wander those streets. The roads are uncomfortable to walk on. One could try and cover all the streets with leather…that would protect your feet but is wholly impractical. The other option is to put shoes on your feet.

    Changing our attitude

    This verse is speaking to how mentally we approach life. We could go out there and have all aspects of life set up just the way that we want them so that we do not have to deal with the difficulties. Imagine, every corner that you turn you find yourself being approached in exactly the way that you want, everything laid out just as you want it…all of the time. Wouldn’t that be comfortable…and I also sense a little boring? And of course this approach to life is just not possible.

    So what is the other option? Change your mind. If you cannot change the physical world, change how you approach what the world presents to you. While our ideal for recharging might be a quiet room with a book, if that is not available to us, we still have ourselves. Instead of filling our head with dialogue such as, “I am tired and don’t want to be here,” we can rest our attention on the breath when we are not speaking. In the presence of others we can take time for ourselves.

    If others are talking a lot while you just want to gaze out over some beautiful scenery, allow the talk to go on…but not your internal dialogue wishing things to be quiet. Keep a bare attention on the conversation should you need to respond, otherwise focus on what brings you joy - the view. Again, seek solitude in the presence of others.

    Letting go

    The world can be noisy, but sometimes we make it more noisy for ourselves with all our internal chatter that is complaining about what we don’t like. Let go of that chatter, let go of your resistance to what is going on, accept the situation for what it is (that does not mean that you have to like it) and give that space to recharging on the fly. Letting go is not a giving up. It is an honest assessment of the situation, an acceptance of what you can and cannot do, not fighting against that and basing your way forward on that reality. Do not be discouraged by the struggle to let go. It is a practice. It is about getting use to something new, a new way of working with a situation. The more that you get use to the ability and seek out methods that work for you to seek solitude in the presence of others, the more the viability of letting go becomes.

    Through all of this remember to look after yourself, but also remember your friends and colleagues. If you disappear, they could be left wondering what is going on. Find that balance for yourself - on the one hand letting go and spending more time with others, on the other letting them know what your needs are and taking some time for yourself.

    What techniques do you use to replenish your reserves when life is busy around you? How do you take in the view while others talk away in the background?

    Digital Focus (aka Mindfulness Bell)

    As I journal and reflect on the Medicine Walk that I went on last Monday, I am reminded of the importance of some digital tools that I make use of to help prevent me from getting caught up in the digital world. I thought that I would share them here with you should you also want to explore moments of mindful stepping back while engaging in your digital life.

    Before I go any further, I just want to mention a couple of things:

    • First I want to say that I receive nothing for mentioning the applications that I speak of here. They are simply tools that I have found online and that have been of great help to me.
    • Second, and this is quite important, these apps will have no effect if you do not start them up in the first place. Now that might sound quite obvious, but the mind is tricky and sometimes forgetful, and you can always convince yourself that you do not need to take any breaks this time. So until you get into a habit of using them, find someway to remind yourself. For example, on a Mac you can set applications to start when the computer starts up.

    Thich Naht Hanh

    The Zen Master Thich Naht Hanh speaks of the Bell of Mindfulness. When the bell sounds it brings us back to the present moment. We stop what we are doing, take three conscious breaths, and then return to our activity. The bell can be a purposely sounded gong. At talk and retreats given by Thay, as he is affectionately known, a Bell of Mindfulness is sounded at regular intervals even if Thay is talking. The Bell can also be the brake lights of the car in front of you, the telephone ringing or a dog barking. It can be whatever stops you in that moment.

    In Thich Naht Hanh’s tradition he makes use of gathas, short poems, to help us with our mindfulness practice. One that I find particularly helpful when I pause and take three breaths is this one, 

    Breathing in I calm my body,  
    Breathing out I smile.  
    Breathing in I calm my body,  
    Breathing out I smile.  
    Breathing in the present moment,  
    I know that it is a wonderful moment.

    or a shorter one,

    In - I know that I am breathing in.
    Out - I know that I am breathing out.


    Software

    Mac Apps

    Some enterprising software writers have created applications that in their own way create a Bell of Mindfulness, allowing you to stop your digital activity, breathe, stretch and then return to your work. The purpose behind some of these apps is to prevent physical injury such as hunch shoulders, but they can also be used as your own personal Bell.

    I make use of the Apple platform for both my desktop and mobile digital life, but hopefully for those who are interested in using these tools but are not Apple users, these applicationss will give you a starting point for research into similar apps for your platform. A couple of these apps, are actually platform independent and make use of web browsers. Some are free, and some cost a few dollars.

    • Time Out Free - This was the first application of this type that I ever used. There are many variables that you can set within the application, but in essence after a predefined period of time the app will disable the keyboard, for a period of time of your choosing. You can then just breathe, stretch, take a walk, or go and make a cup of tea. I have always said that the completion of my Masters paper was in part because of this app. Productivity doesn’t just come from just keeping going.
    • Pauses - This application is very similar to Time Out Free. A simpler version with a few less options, but no less effective.
    • Mindful Mynah - My current go to application for taking a break is very simple in its operation. At a predetermined interval the application will sound a tone. There are a selection of sounds so that you can choose one conducive for you. That is it. No disabled keyboards, just a tone.
    • Freedom - This app does not disable the keyboard…it disables the internet! You set how long that you wish to be offline and then once you have pressed the start button the only way to re-enable the internet before your time is up is to restart your computer. Great for those writing projects. Available on PCs.
    • Anti-Social - Written by the same company that produced Freedom, Anti-Social will disable access to your social media feeds only, or individual websites that you choose. No more continual checking to see how many ‘Likes’ you have received for your last post when you should be concentrating on something else. 

    iPhone Apps

    • Mindful Mynah - This is an iPhone version of the Mac app of the same name mentioned above. Useful if you just want a mindfulness bell at hand while working on non-digital projects.
    • Calm Button - By the same author as Mindful Mynah, this app bills itself as “Anxiety Relief • Breath Trainer.” I find it very effective for slowing you down, quieting the mind and bringing you back to now. Spend as long as you need with it.
    • Samsara - Although this is not mindfulness bell but a meditation timer, I have included it here as it is a timer that I use and like because of it’s simplicity. It will also work when the iPhone is in airplane mode and sounds are turned off, allowing no intrusion from other apps or someone calling you.

    Browser Extension

    • Bell of Mindfulness - This extension is available for Chrome based browsers such as Google Chrome, and as such it is independent of the platform, Mac or PC, that it is run on.

    Search, Explore

    We are all of different dispositions. What works for me might not work for you. However, if you are interested in exploring having access to a Bell of Mindfulness in your digital life and these apps don’t quite fit, explore and test out others. Google and other search engines are of course one place to start your search. For those in the Apple world, try MacUpdate or the Mac App Store as well.

    If you are using a digital Bell of Mindfulness, what application are you using?


    Update - March 22, 2019

    I am currently using Rest Time on my MacBook Air, my main computer, to manage my work and rest time. I find it simple, unobtrusive and with the features that I need. There is a two week free trial. Give it a spin.

    Some Days Suck...

    Some days suck and yesterday was one of them for me. That was the downside. The upside happened as the day drew to a close with a bit of wisdom that came my way in one of those synchronous ways that things can unfold in life. The advice was helpful and what I needed to hear. However, that piece of wisdom did not surface before I had spent a good part of the day feeling sluggish and as though I was lugging a dead weight around with me.

    The wheels were spinning for most of yesterday. For some reason I was getting little accomplished and sitting there staring at my computer screen or with pen in hand did not seem to help the situation…and it wasn’t as though I hadn’t been there before or spoken to friends in a similar situation. The solution was sitting a stone’s throw from me, and I knew it, but was I acting on that solution? No! The fast failing belief of “gotta get something done and as long as I sit here something will manifest," was foremost in my mind overriding more sound wisdom.

    The Ocean

    The solution is where I ultimately wrote a first draft to this post (though that was not the intention) - outside. I went and sat by the ocean to get some perspective and feel the energy of the waves breaking over the ancient volcanic rocks that make up these Hawaiian Islands. I allowed my mind to rest as my gaze wandered across the bay or to the horizon.

    My words of advice to others when nothing seems to be working and the mind feels like pea soup is to down tools and take a break. Forget about work for a moment and allow the healing powers of the natural world to work their magic. In our productivity driven, got to get things done world the tendency is to push on regardless. We tell ourselves, as I did yesterday, that if bum is on the chair and utensils are in our hands something will happen sooner or later. We have been there before and know about the unproductive results, but no matter we sit there stubbornly telling ourselves that we are going to get this work done.

    Strategies

    So I’d like to offer you (and me) a few strategies to take your mind and body away from that which is frustrating you, to a place that supports you and gives you much needed space … to breathe, to stretch and to hopefully bring some inspiration back to those tired brain cells.

    1. As I shared above, down your tools and get outside. Take a walk. If time allows, find a place with a view - distance and perspective will help to rest a cluttered mind. While I was working on my thesis for my Masters paper a decade or so ago I would take a 5 minute walk every 40 minutes. I set an application on my computer that disabled the keyboard at set intervals. With the computer out of action I would get up and take a short walk outside. I still think that it was one of my most productive times_._
    2. Listen to some music. Music that inspires or rests you. Music that lifts your mind out of the funk that it is in. Preferably that music is not on your computer so that you move away from it, but with YouTube and other portals at our finger tips, music is never far away - and that was a part of yesterday’s restful mix for me.
    3. Have a book or two that inspire you near at hand at all times. Whether it is a work of fiction, an account of a time in history that rouses you, or a spiritual volume - let it be something other than work that lifts your spirits and offers you another perspective.
    4. Stop and meditate. Whether a stationary meditation, such as focusing on the breath, or getting outside to practice walking meditation, both can be available to you. The focus takes the mind away from the worry.
    5. Get away from your chair and stretch, practice yoga, t’ai chi or something similar. Go outside if that is available to you. Feel the freshness of the air on your face as you go through your movements.
    6. …And the words of wisdom that I received at the end of the day…? Just remind yourself how unproductive, contrary or pessimistic states of mind can be. This was shared with me during a meditation class that I was at last night, but it is just as relevant in our everyday lives. We were being introduced to a Tibetan Buddhist technique for developing a calm mind, a single-pointed mind (Tibetan: zhi-gnas) - there are nine stages, but there is a pragmatism to those stages. A few stages in, if you are struggling and spending a lot of time dwelling on questions like, “why am I doing this, I’m really not getting anywhere?”, ask yourself, “what use is this way of thinking to me?” “Does this state of mind bring me happiness?” “Does it help me progress in my practice?” “Look at how much time I am wasting in thinking this way."

    Reflecting on what we want to achieve and how our thoughts are really completely unproductive helps to pull us out of that pea soup mind. It might take time to create a habit of bringing the positive thoughts to our mind, but regular familiarization will help to change our habits.

    I hope that something here is of help to you. Today has certainly been more productive for me, and for that I am grateful.

    How do you pull yourself out of a work funk?

    Keeping the Gremlins at Bay

    See if this rings true for you? You’ve just got off a telephone call or are out of a meeting where something was said to you that felt like a blow to the solar plexus. However, you barely have time to come up for air and take stock of the situation when your schedule calls you to your next appointment.

    So you are sitting in your next appointment trying to stay focused on the people and task at hand, but that last conversation is banging at the door and won’t leave you alone. How do you handle this situation until you have time to give the troublesome conversation your attention?

    The Pink Floyd song, “Hey You” from their album  The Wall has the lyric,

    and the worms ate into your brain.

    That unhappy line is followed by sounds that perfectly conjure up the image of something niggling away at your mind, insidiously aggravating you with its presence. A mass of wriggling worms feels to me like the perfect analogy (with all due respect to worms).

    The world of mindfulness and Buddhist meditation speaks a lot about being present to now, to what is going on in the present moment. We are advised that, “the past has gone, the future is yet to come, now is the knowing.” This is sound advice and bears constant reflection. It is easy to discount its wisdom as it is not an easy instruction to live by. However, whether it is easy or not is not reason to discard it. Some of what is most worthwhile requires of us our deepest effort. That being said, when there has been a deep blow to us the best laid plans can seem a distant stretch. At such times we can easily find ourselves craving distractions of assurance and comfort over trying to keep the noises at bay.

    Sharing an experience

    Earlier this week I had an experience similar to what I have described here. I put the phone down feeling winded, sent an email to a friend just to share and offload, and then headed to my qigong class. Engaging in a meditative exercise certainly helped. It was easier to cope with than a busy meeting, but I was still yearning for some alone time to process the worms that were eating into my brain. As we moved on with the class, and as the noise from the phone call crept into my mind, I kept bringing myself back to the qigong practice. That noise after all was just a series of thoughts, given substance by the attention that I gave to them. Slowly the noises quietened. They never completely went away, although there were moments when I forgot about the call as I became more focused on the qigong. That in itself shows that the mental voices only react to the power that we give to them.

    With the class over I could feel the ripples from my earlier call build again, and I went home to reflect on its implications. But the words also made me reflect on the words of the eighth century Indian Buddhist saint Shatideva who said,

    There is nothing at all which cannot become easier through practice.

    Meditation

    Meditation can be a deceptive practice. The instruction is simple yet the practice requires commitment and perseverance to experience the results. Meditation is not an escape into a quiet world (though at times there might be good reason to use it for that). Rather it is a familiarization with a world that many of us do not visit, our own minds. It is a familiarization with and retraining for how we interact with what arises in the mind.

    Aided with a motivation or reason for being on the cushion, with time you can start to experience the workable nature of the mind. The worms might still knock at the door of your brain, but you realize that you don’t have to let them in. Acknowledge them, say “Hi,” and let them go on their merry way. This starts on your cushion but with time and familiarization this practice creeps into your daily life. You are deepening your awareness and creating new habits in your mind. These efforts are felt in your own life and ripple out into the world around you.

    Strive for Perfection, Stay in Practice

    Practice - to rehearse, to work at, to train; from the Greek, praktikos - active, practical.

    Practice is a word that we use to describe our meditation and yoga training. We speak of a meditation practice, our yoga practice, our qigong practice. In this vein, what might practice have to say about our day to day endeavors that surround these trainings?

    When we turn up for our yoga class or sit to meditate invariably there is that part of us that is looking to be better than last time - to have a clearer mind, to hold that position longer than last time. We look round the room full of other yogis and create stories in our mind that do not serve us. The narratives speak of how we should be, and we feel that until we get into that position our own practice is somehow lacking.

    But let’s stop and look at that word practice. There is a sense of ongoingness about it, continuity. One rarely hears about the end or conclusion of these trainings…unless we choose to pack them in. What practice is telling us is the never-ending nature of the activity that we are engaging in. There is not a finishing place, a goal to which we are headed, rather a continuous learning and deeper exploration of what it is we are engaged in. If we are willing to explore, with each learning another door opens to reveal deeper truths that are waiting to be discovered. It is an understanding and realization that you are never quite there, you are always practicing to reach that next level.

    Returning to the narratives that we tell ourselves, in time holding ourselves to those expectations becomes exhausting. Just the practice and asking of our body and mind to do something that it is not use to doing becomes enough. To give yourself competition on top of that just becomes too much. So you let go of the striving and just show up to practice.

    We strive for perfection, creating in our minds a world that does not exist for us right now and may never do so, and in doing so we miss being present to where we are now. Practice is not about reaching for perfection, it is being present with who we are now, bowing to the insights that that brings us, and moving through the same motions again to see what else might be revealed to us. 

    Practice shows to us the elusiveness of perfection, even if in the eyes of others we have achieved it, for in getting there we see that more is possible. We can go deeper, and the practice continues. This is even true if our body doesn’t allow us to bend further, run faster. We still ask ourselves, “what more is there to learn here?”

    So in your work strive to do well, strive to do your best, but remember the practice element of it. What is there for you to learn in this moment?

    Riding Up That Hill

    I’ll have to ask you to fill in the blanks on this one. I am writing about extroverts and introverts, but any dualism can be exchanged in replacement for these opposites. This article is primarily about awareness, a tool that is central to meditation practice. I’d also like to suggest that it is central to our interaction with others and in that vein it is also a post in support of introverts.

    Awareness

    Within meditation practice, awareness is that little watcher in our minds that keeps an eye on where the focus of our mind is. In there is a paradox - it is faculty of the mind that keeps an eye on what the mind is doing. Are we staying with the object of meditation or have we wavered onto some more pressing - of course our meditation practice is important but once we ask our mind to focus, the subject of what we are going to eat for breakfast or that afternoon meeting suddenly becomes more interesting.

    So awareness watches and catches us when we stray from the object of meditation and gently brings us back. In our everyday life awareness is like a self-policing. Do we know the full story of what is going on here? Are we responding appropriately to this situation? Awareness is continually asking of us to ask deeper questions. Do we have the full picture here? I’ll explore this from a perspective on the extrovert/introvert interaction…from the introvert perspective. But first bicycles.

    Bicycling

    I enjoy cycling. I enjoying cycling not as a sport but as a recreational cyclist. I own a couple of bicycles for getting around. My trusty work horse is a Brompton a British designed, fold-up bike that gets me around the city of Portland. For longer recreational rides I have a Specialized road bike. The Specialized has twenty gears, the Brompton, six. The Brompton is a good strong bicycle but it does make me work harder on the hills, longer rides and pedaling against the wind. I jump on the  carbon fibre Specialized and suddenly cycling becomes like putting a hot knife through butter - effortless.

    When you are on a bike there are hills, and there are hills. Some of the regular hills are so gradual that if you are in a car you probably don’t even notice them. However, for the cyclist the gradual incline soon works its way into your muscles. You might choose to take a break while riding the incline, find yourself panting for breath at the barely perceptible top and wearily free wheeling down the other side, having little inclination to pedal but a wish to rest those tired legs. Because of the time taken pedaling up the hill you might take in some details of the route traversed, the sites passed, the smells in the air.

    The car driver however, through no fault of their own, does not recognize the hill. The car strains little if at all. You are soon at the top, quite possibly not even recognizing or registering it as a ‘top,’ and carry on with your journey. The awareness is not there of a hill having been traveled along, or the details of the journey itself.

    The Monkey Mind

    I use this to illustrate the unintended lack of awareness that extroverts can bring to the needs of introverts. This article is not about “never ending introvert suffering”! Indeed we can all bring a lack of awareness to anything that is not a major player in our own lives. No, the intention here is simply awareness, or lack of - whether it is from introverts to extroverts, vise versa or between those blanks that you filled in at the beginning.

    Without an awareness of the needs of introverts to have some quiet time to recharge. Without an awareness of introverts ability to make informed decisions though maybe taking longer over it. Without an awareness for introverts working better on their own or in small, like minded groups. Without this awareness, the needs of introverts are not understood and introverts can be looked on from a critical, ‘less than’ perspective and in doing so skills and opportunities be overlooked.

    From the meditation perspective awareness is what catches the mind from running off in its own dialogue and brings us back to the object of meditation. Without awareness in our meditation we get lost in the mind’s games and word plays. We need awareness to keep us focused, keep us on track and for the meditation to be of benefit. A meditation session with no awareness just becomes a spaced out session, just sitting back and watching the mind’s show. I’m not suggesting that you have to be completely focused 100% of the time, far from it. Meditation is that moment where you do catch yourself.

    Many people do not realize that they have this monkey mind, charging off in all directions and we consequently become a slave to our minds. Without this awareness to the needs of the introverts or whoever the different groups are in your life, our interactions become reactions that are based in our old habits and beliefs.

    Stop, breathe, look, ask.

    Managing Overwhelm (II)

    In the last article we looked at scenarios where you find yourself becoming overwhelmed. That is you are at an event, whether business or social, and you start to notice a creeping sensation of exhaustion enveloping you. There might be pain involved, physical or mental, and consequently you have to muster all of your strength just to stay present.

    If you have the opportunity to excuse yourself and leave, you are free. You can go home, take a walk, or do whatever you need to do in that moment to recharge. If however circumstances dictate that you have to stay around and be involved, you are going to need some resources to draw on - and I am not talking about a stiff drink, though some may choose that.

    For the introverts reading this I’m sure that you can relate to this experience, though I am not just writing this for introverts among us. We can all find ourselves in situations where we are called to be engaged, but our body and mind are screaming for us to take a time out. In those situations, whoever you are, you need something to keep yourself afloat and present.

    The last post looked at the meditation technique of “breathing through.” This article will look at mindfulness.

    Mindfulness is about bringing a presence of mind to what you are feeling now - what is arising in this moment? However at the same time you are not getting involved with the thoughts or sensations that are here now. I mentioned last time about using breathing through in everyday situations, but also giving yourself some solitary practice time, quiet meditation. Here we will look at the solitary practice first. This is because the mind responds well to constant familiarization, indeed the Tibetan word for meditation, göm, means to become familiar with. Through this when you find yourself in certain situations you respond in a way congruent with a trained mind as opposed to falling back into old habits. That might sound dry, but that is what meditation is enabling you to do - to familiarize yourself with states of mind - focus, love, patience.

    So find a quiet and safe place to sit where you will be undisturbed. Make yourself comfortable. Then start quieting the mind by bringing your attention to the breath. Not a forced breath, but the simple sensation of the breath entering and leaving the nose. The mind will wander, for sure, but don’t scold yourself, just gently bring yourself back to this awareness as though you are a silent observer. The observing mind will wander off with regularity - no matter, just gently come back to the breath.

    When the mind has settled start to observe your thoughts. Don’t get involved with them, just watch. You are not aiming to silence the mind, though that might happen briefly, so don’t start setting yourself goals. Rather you are simply observing your thoughts. An analogy might be looking out of a window at the scenery; you are not involved, just watching. As you watch you’ll notice that all these thoughts follow a similar pattern - arise, hang around for a bit, and then dissolve away. With the mind being the precursor to all our actions, this familiarity with the nature of what is passing through the mind has implications for how we experience and act in our lives. We’ll explore this by looking at our overwhelm scenarios.

    Transitioning back to our party or business meeting where tiredness is creeping up on you, ask yourself how is that tiredness manifesting - weariness, aching, heavy eyes, other? Notice those feelings. I’m sure that there are moments when you are not talking, when you are not so involved so that you have that space to be with yourself. Observe those feelings and thoughts, see their transitory nature and allow them to go. A second later they will probably show up again, but once more just let them pass by. Observe that feeling of overwhelm and let it go. Part of what causes us discomfort is feeling as though these thoughts and feelings are solid, but they are not. Moment to moment they are changing. Recognizing the nature of these sensations and their corresponding thoughts allow us to let go of them more easily. From this we can develop some mental space to be with that which we don’t like. In short, the situation becomes more workable.

    I offer these two techniques, breathing through and mindfulness, in the hope that they can offer you some respite when life is becoming difficult for you. If you choose to try them out, don’t expect to see instant results, and at the same time don’t give up too easily. Our mind is habituated into ways of being and essentially we are trying to retrain it. That takes time. Be easy on yourself.

    Having said all of that, do use common sense. If things are just getting too much, do what you have to do to make things right for you.

    Managing Overwhelm (I)

    This is the first part of a two part article exploring ways of helping yourself when you feel that you are hitting overwhelm. While written from my experiences as an introvert, these techniques are applicable to anyone. We all have our limits. When we reach them if we are still called to act, we need ways to keep ourselves afloat and stay focused.

    Here are some scenarios:

    • You’ve had a long day, the conference has been very interesting but perhaps your stimulation levels have maxed out. Though you’d much prefer to retire to your hotel room, there is still the evening session to go.
    • The party is still going strong. You’ve had a good evening, met up with a number of old friends, made some new ones but are feeling exhausted now. You’d like to leave, but your partner wants to stay a while longer.
    • It’s been a day of hard negotiations with various challenges to deal with coming in from all sides, sometimes unexpectedly. You can see the end in sight, but you are not there yet. You are going to have to muster all your will power to stay with the process.

    Do any of these ring true for you? I’d guess that within the outlines there is a seed of something that you have experienced. What do you do when mind and body are screaming “I want to leave,” but you know that the situation requires of you to hang in there a bit longer - and not only that, full presence is required?

    In these situations we have two conflicting voices inside ourselves shouting for attention. On the one hand there is the body and mind that is exhausted and wants to go home to put their feet up, and on the other is the external situation that is demanding your undivided attention. While not denying your tiredness, and honestly responding to it where the need justifies, we need some way of acknowledging but keeping at bay the tired voice while allowing ourselves to muster all the strength that we can to be present to the task at hand.

    When in such situations I have found a couple of practices to be of great help. They are both meditation practices and can happen without the knowledge of anyone around you, thus not getting in the way of what it is you are doing. In this context do not see meditation as something that happens in a quiet room while you are sitting on a chair or cushion. There can be that side to these practices, and we shall touch on them. Rather look on these as tools that you can take with you into the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Tools that take up no room, but are always with you.

    In this post I shall look at the practice of “Breathing Through.”

    With breathing through you are being purposefully present to the struggle or emotion that you are dealing with. When you feel overwhelm it becomes something palpable to your experience. As the sense of overwhelm hits you, imagine that you are breathing it into yourself through your nose. Breathe this overwhelm down into you and through your heart, allowing it to dissolve as it passed through your heart. Imagine your heart cradling and holding the pain and discomfort that you are feeling, and in doing so the tension and weariness that you perceive dissolves away. At times in doing this you could well notice resistance as you breathe in the overwhelm, the emotion not making it to your heart. This comes from our old habits, for example not wanting to deal with the pain or being use to calling it a day once the exhaustion presents itself. Acknowledge the resistance and breathe in the discomfort again. The capacity of the heart for holding pain is limitless. With time that which was difficult will become possible.

    This practice allows you to increase your capacity to hold that which is difficult. Its intention is not to make you like something that you previously disliked, though that may happen as well, but increase your capacity to be with discomfort. As that capacity increases so you will be able to give more of yourself to the party, meeting or whatever it is you are being called to stay ‘overtime’ for.

    Time spent rehearsing this practice in quiet meditation can be very beneficial. Sit comfortably, whether on a chair or cushion, and bring to mind a situation that you have found uncomfortable. As you breathe in, breathe in that discomfort bringing it down to your heart and allowing it to dissolve. Again when resistance arises allow it to be there, don’t fight it, and return to breathing in that overwhelm. By spending your own quiet time practicing this meditation, you will be more familiar with the approach when the real life situation arises. As the Zen Master Thich Naht Hanh has said, “meditation is not an escape from life … but preparation for really being in life.”

    In the next article we shall look at the practice of mindfulness and how it can enable the holding of discomfort.

    Motivation's Role In Your Adventures

    This article first appeared on Arthur Coddington’s Peak Performance website.

    Call to adventure…

    The vision is set. The goals are in place. You are positioned in front of your computer, note book, or on your way to your office (even if that it is 30 second walk from bed to another room in the house), and nothing is going to stop you. Today is not only the first day of the rest of your life, but also the day that your life vision is to take birth – business, sport, learn a new musical instrument, walk round the world – the “what” does not matter. {{more}} What does matter is that today is that day, finally, that you and the world (though they don’t know it yet) have been waiting for. You are about to launch yourself. Watch out everyone…

    …and then

    Fast forward to five o’clock in the evening. The fist pumping enthusiasm of earlier that day is still there, though perhaps not knocking the punch that it did that morning. You’ve read a few more blog posts than you intended, got to know your social media timelines more intimately, and got up to make yourself a few more hot drinks than you usually do. Hhmmm, what has happened to that “watch out world” enthusiasm of 8 hours ago? You are feeling deflated and struggling to find a kick, and on top of that there’s a hollow pit in your stomach due to the lack of accomplishment. All that reading that you had been doing had ratchet up your sense of untouchability. This was your year, month, day. Now was the time that you had been waiting for and you were now going to head out and live your dream…..but you feel it faltering before it reaches the first hurdle. Or perhaps to be more accurate, the hurdle was already sitting there, you just did not see it.

    Finding your resources

    Wishing to live your dream, to make real that which you feel as though you were put on the earth to do requires of you resolution and strength that has to be fed from somewhere. That somewhere can in part come from close family, friends, a significant other, but there also needs to be an inner resource from which you can draw. This becomes even more relevant when there isn’t someone in the wings offering that support.

    Any endeavor that is seeking to take us out of the norm that our everyday lives currently inhabit is like a call to adventure. Within that call are voices that are sitting there waiting to give us every good reason not to set off. If all that we rely on is an adrenaline fueled pump of energy to keep us going, we better have a good supply of Red Bull sitting in the refrigerator as sooner or later that initial surge is going to wane. As the initial enthusiasm dies off, the doubting voices will start to emerge out of the shadows telling us what a dodo we were to even think that we could embark on this journey in the first place. All best laid plans will in some way be rendered useless by the voices and slowly we’ll find ourselves dragged away from that which we believed in.

    What we need to do is create a stronger base on which to build our vision. The foundation needs to be stronger. So what are the ingredients that can help to build that stronger foundation?

    Building a solid base

    In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition before we start a meditation session we are instructed to set ourselves a motivation for engaging in the practice. This can be anything, but the one that is suggested within the Tibetan tradition is to familiarize ourselves better with our mind, so that we can develop it to be better able to help others. At the end of the session we dedicate any benefits, any insights gained from the practice to the accomplishment of the goal that we set ourselves at the outset. The reason behind this short ritual is to first set a direction and then cement within us what we have learnt from our meditation.

    It is very easy to just plump ourselves down on the cushion to meditate and then jump up afterwards and get on with our day without reflecting on what we have just done. I’m not going to suggest that you will get no benefit from ‘just’ sitting but by engaging in the ritual of setting intention, the reason for which you are engaging in the meditation practice will become more firmly embedded within you. Even when you don’t feel like sitting, you’ll have your off days, the motivation can help bring you to the cushion. The distracting voices are kept at bay by your continual resolution to accomplish a goal, in this case developing a mind more infused with patience, love and compassion.

    Renewed resolve

    As we set ourselves our goals for that grand plan that we want to embark on, it is useful to stop for a moment (perhaps a day, a few quiet hours away when things are less hectic) and reflect and embed within in us what deep down inside is driving us. In our vision for our future were values. Our vision was built upon standards that we hold as very important and dear in our lives. However, in the enthusiasm and adrenaline high of wishing to succeed, we didn’t take time to cement within us what the dream was being birthed from.

    To quiet the doubting voices we need to become deeply familiar and intimate with these values that drive us. Take a moment each day to remind yourself of what is driving you and use that as a resolution to drive yourself towards your goals.